My grandfather had one of the most cluttered, dusty, dirty, noisy workrooms I have yet to see the likes of. He worked in there happily mumbling under his breath with a toothpick forever stuck between his teeth.
As a child, I spent a lot of time at my grandparents and have many fond memories of their home. But none so sweet as a man with callused hands, a gruff voice and gentle eyes, showing me how to use a screwdriver. He’d spot me hiding behind the thick tapestry that shielded the upstairs from the sawdust and he’d invite me in.
This large thick piece of material with its many colors became a place I would hide behind to watch a man I hardly knew, work. He was patient with his projects and sometimes used colorful language, yet he always made the most spectacular things from his imagination and wood. He was using his band saw the first time I felt squeamish. His large hands were so close to the blade and yet he didn’t seem to mind. “Respect”, he told me once. That’s it, one word to define everything. Then with his raspy laugh, “Respect, or lose a finger.”
It was in this room I found my love for all things you make or do with your hands. The tools fascinated me, the smells beckoned me, and this man helped shape me. His was the first band saw I ever used. His was the first hammer, Phillips screw driver, table saw. I watched as he made tiny bassinets with his scroll saw, wood name plates for the family, our first born son’s cradle.
Many would say my grandfather was a tough man. I wouldn’t begin to disagree with them. He was of a different time, another generation. But somewhere in that small cramped space, in all the sawdust and dingy lighting, I became familiar with a man who used little to no words when he worked and gentle hands. In time, he didn’t mind my interest, even though I wasn’t a boy. He’d signal me in with a nod of his head and I’d go stand beside him until it was time to help grandma with lunch. I tried to work with him in silence, but my curious mind would ask question after question. Looking back, I can see why he’d send me to go help Gram.
Both these loving people are gone now. I was there when the family cleaned the house out for the last time. I remember sneaking down the stairs where the tapestry was no longer hanging. The work benches were gone along with the metal storage units that held all those wonderful tools. The room was too clean and too silent. So just for a minute, I stood with my eyes closed. The smell came to me, as did the memory of how every nook of that small space once looked. When I opened my eyes, I could see it with its bad lighting and filthy floor. The feeling of ‘home’ overwhelmed me. Since that day, I have traveled with and can call upon those feelings in a moments notice. It’s a comfort and a blessing.
I have my own workroom, now. It’s small and cramped. It’s dusty and slightly disorganized. Nevertheless, it’s mine. I know how to use every tool in it, and then some. With my family, I have built bookcases, shelves, doorways, and walls to our new bedroom. When the challenge of building our new room was finished, I wasn’t just thinking and thanking the people who helped us with it, but also, the person who gave me the foundation to build it.